The following essay was commissioned by Michael Koresky at the Criterion Collection for their 2007 DVD release of Chris Marker’s Sans soleil (which they brought out with La jetée), although they eventually decided not to include it in their booklet. They made it available on their web site for a spell until an infection obliged them to remove all their essays, but Koresky has informed me that these are being reposted now that their new web site is being launched. I’m reprinting it here, in any case, with their permission. I should add that it recycles some material from my essay “On Second Thoughts,” about The Last Bolshevik, reprinted at the end of my 1997 collection Movies as Politics. — J.R.
The Guarded Intimacy of Sans soleil
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
“The Sorbonne should be razed and Chris Marker put in its place.” —-Henri Michaux
“Contrary to what people say, using the first person in films tends to be a sign of humility: `All I have to offer is myself.’”—Chris Marker
Even though few film essayists are more mythological than Chris Marker, it might help to clarify some matters if a couple of the more persistent myths surrounding his legend were undermined a little. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (July 23, 1996). Jazz fans who might be considering whether to watch this feature should hunt down instead Altman’s Jazz ’34, made at the same time in the same location and infinitely better. — J.R.
The sets — designed by Stephen Altman — are great, and so is the 30s jazz, but the story of this Robert Altman memory piece about his hometown, written with Frank Barhydt (Short Cuts), is borderline terrible. It counts on the dubious premise that a gangster (Harry Belafonte) would fritter away a whole night deciding what to do with a thief who rips him off — thereby enabling the thief’s significant other (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to kidnap a society lady (Miranda Richardson) and Altman to crosscut to his heart’s content as he exposes the inner workings of a city on the eve of a local election. The conception of character is so limited that the kidnapper’s seems to consist exclusively of Jean Harlow imitations, while the kidnappee’s seems defined only by drug addiction. Charlie Parker and his mother are gratuitously shoehorned into the plot, though some of the movie’s other strategies for imparting period flavor work better. The flip cynicism, which by now has become Altman’s trademark, doesn’t work at all. Read more
From the April 1, 2002 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Disgusting yet interesting, Lars von Trier’s much heralded musical (2000) — or, more precisely, feature-length music video with interspersed dialogue — deserves to be seen because it’s a freakish provocation, not just because it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. A Czech immigrant working at a factory in rural Washington State in the early 60s (Icelandic pop star Bjork) is going blind and knows her son will too if she can’t save enough money for an operation; the story gets even more melodramatic once a murder trial takes over. Reportedly shot with 100 digital video cameras (very few of which manage to find a good angle), the film reprises the sadomasochistic celebration of female suffering in Breaking the Waves, and with it von Trier affirms his solidarity with America’s impoverished and downtrodden people (apparently a diversion from his career in Denmark as a porn producer). The musical numbers are a weird blend of rock video and Jacques Demy postmusicals, with lousy songs and choreography and a distance between the music and the action that suggests an amateur remake of Pennies From Heaven. But in spite of everything, Bjork’s absolute dedication and submission to the material periodically blew me away. Read more